Mark Towers, one of roughly 15 people at the Winslow Community Cupboard on Wednesday afternoon, helps a fellow volunteer load soiled produce into the back of a trailer. Towers said this was the “sixth or seventh” trailer full of food that had been ruined in the flood this week that was thrown away that day. Each trailer holds roughly 8,000 pounds worth of food, Towers said. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel

WINSLOW — Bruce Bottiglierie was planning to deliver meals to more than 300 families throughout Somerset County on Wednesday.

But instead, he and about 15 volunteers for the Winslow Community Cupboard spent the day throwing away more than 20,000 pounds of food.

Bottiglierie, the operations manager, said the food pantry at 12 Lithgow St. flooded quickly and without notice from authorities. By the time he realized the Kennebec River’s floodwaters had reached the building, it was too late. The cupboard sits just feet from the Kennebec’s banks, so when the river swelled by more than 20 feet Tuesday afternoon, it quickly engulfed the building and much of the food within it.

“There was no warning,” he said Wednesday. “The water rose up so fast. The first call I got was 8 o’clock yesterday morning … Hundreds of people rely on us, so it’s just a kick in the teeth throwing out all this food right now. It physically hurts my heart.”

When Bottiglierie arrived at the cupboard at around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Kennebec had already overtaken Lithgow Street. The cupboard’s basement had already been submerged underwater and Winslow Police had arrived on scene to evacuate residents. The road had already been closed, and Bottiglierie said officers refused to let him drive through floodwaters to salvage the cupboard’s food.

“By the time I got down there, (Winslow Police) wouldn’t let me get in the water to try to retrieve our trailers,” he said. “I begged and pleaded with them. I said ‘I have government food that is literally going to go to waste if we don’t get it out of there.’ Instead, we sat up the road, watching the trailers float in the water with debris from our pantry,


“There was nothing we could do,” he added. “I just couldn’t get anybody’s help.”

Other food pantries and food banks in Maine fared better, reporting they didn’t lose power and didn’t lose items for those in need, according to Jessica Donohue, communications director for the Good Shepherd Food Bank, a nonprofit that’s the largest hunger-relief organization in the state.

“A lot of our pantries had generators and were able to keep their cold storage running, which kept them from food loss,” Donohue said Thursday. “The food bank has not stopped distributing to our more than 600 partner agencies throughout the state. Our community partnerships team have been focusing on outreach to get a pulse on the hardest hit areas of the state. We’re anticipating an increased need as we hear from pantries.”


Bob Moore, executive director of the Augusta Food Bank, said the food bank did not lose power throughout the storm. “I guess we were lucky and in a good spot, we didn’t lose power and we didn’t lose any food,” Moore said.

He added that on Monday, volunteers at the food bank served food to around 28 people; on a normal day that number is only slightly higher, up to around 35-40 people.


“It’s business as usual; we are very lucky,” Moore said.

A liaison from the Good Shepherd Food Bank called the Augusta Food Bank early Thursday to check in and ensure smooth sailing and that similar calls are going out to all associated food banks, Moore added.

A few miles away, the Hallowell Food Pantry lost power Monday afternoon for almost 48 hours, Executive Director Vicky Gabrion said.

“We did have to throw out a lot of frozen meat,” said Gabrion. “I didn’t weigh it because it was heavy but it was around eight to nine contractor bags.”

The food lost, however, was what is donated to the pantry by Hannaford. The food purchased from the Good Shepherd Food Bank made it through the storm, sitting in a chest freezer that preserved better than normal refrigerators, said Gabrion.

The Fairfield Interfaith food pantry resumed operations Thursday after bulk of the storm had passed. Rev. Peter Roy said the pantry was hardly impacted by the power outage and they were “really lucky” in that aspect. No damage was reported to the 23 Lawrence Ave. building, either.


The generators, Roy said, helped preserve the stock of food in the pantry.

“The lord blessed us with a standing generator,” he said. “That helped maintain the heat in the pantry.”

Dozens flocked to the pantry Thursday morning to stock up on supplies. Most people, he said, were out of perishables and power for a long time.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Food Pantry is currently assessing and are hoping to be open for distribution and the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen is assessing losses, needing to dispose of food from their coolers.


The Winslow Community Cupboard is the second largest hunger relief organization in Maine, Bottiglierie said, providing food to thousands of people from Belfast to Jackman.


The stretch of Lithgow Street where the cupboard was located was the hardest hit in Winslow, Town Manager Ella Bowman said Thursday, as its low elevation and proximity to the Kennebec River leave it susceptible to major flooding. Other businesses along the road, including Maine Crisp and McCormack Building Supply, saw major losses when the Kennebec began flooding Monday afternoon.

“That’s about the only community that’s in jeopardy when it comes to rising waters from the Kennebec,” Bowman said. “Everything along the Kennebec was impacted. Floodwaters impacted town property, personal property, commercial property.”

Water sits Wednesday afternoon in the basement of the Winslow Congregational Church, right next door to the community cupboard. Gas and propane tanks in the basement had ruptured, and the odor of gas was thick in the air. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been called in to assist with cleanup. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel

Bottiglierie said the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been called in to assist with the cleanup.

David Madore, MDEP’s deputy commissioner, said spilled oil and propane had prompted the department to call in Clean Harbors, a hazardous waste disposal company.

“There are multiple residences and businesses with loss of oil tanks, oil, and propane to the river and on the ground throughout the area,” Madore said. “(Hazardous material) responders and Clean Harbors were onsite last night; more work needs to be done today.”

Mark Towers was one of about a dozen volunteers helping clean out the cupboard, dry soaked carpets, and throw away food on Wednesday. As he loaded hundreds of boxes of soiled produce and frozen goods into the cupboard’s trailers, Towers said he often volunteers with the Winslow Community Cupboard six days a week and personally knows many people who rely on it.

“We lost literally thousands of pounds of produce for thousands of people,” Towers said. “We got 13 pallets in on Monday. We’ve got half a pallet of grapefruit and half a pallet of beets that we were able to salvage. Everything else has gone in the Dumpster.

“It just makes you want to cry.”

Kennebec Journal staff writer Aryan Rai and Morning Sentinel staff writer Sukanya Mitra contributed reporting. 

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